Heathers the Musical – Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Reviewer: Pete Benson

Book, Music and Lyrics: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe

Director: Andy Fickman

Bullying, date rape, abuse, suicide and murder are the main ingredients of Heathers the Musical. These themes are little more than props to a storyline which fails to omit no cliché from the well-trodden genre of American high school teen angst. Heathers the Musical is based on the 1989 film of the same name which was initially a box office failure but went on to gain some cult status on home release.

The show very effectively sets out its stall with its strong opening number: “College will be paradise if I’m not dead by June.”

We are at Westerberg High School and there are the cool kids and the unpopular kids. Our heroine Veronica Sawyer has just transitioned from the unpopular to the popular clique in the form of three girls all called Heather. In this world, a popular girl is tall, slim, leggy, wears a short skirt and is available. The alpha Heather is played with huge energy by Verity Thompson who very quickly establishes a loathsome mean streak as she dominates both the other Heathers and the stage. The male equivalents to the three Heathers are two Jocks portrayed as clowns who inevitably are humiliated and emasculated at every turn. They are played with so much fun and humour by Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson. The two of them have superb energy and comic timing together and their slick routines never miss a beat. However, a weakness of the show is that these three dominant characters, to some extent, leave the show early on and only maintain a sometimes-forced, ghostly presence for the second act.

Our heroine Veronica, the moral voice of reason and most excellently portrayed by Jenna Innes, is left to carry the show alongside goth-like anti-hero JD played by Jacob Fowler. JD is every bullied student’s wish fulfilment as he sets about killing the tormentors of the oppressed. Fowler and Innes spark off each other as they spar and fall in and out of love. Innes has a rich powerful singing voice used to particularly good effect in a dramatic sex scene where Veronica releases all her built-up frustration as she frenetically rides JD in her first sexual conquest. It’s a scene that could easily fall flat but the two of them extract every ounce of drama out of it. Fowler too has a strong voice which he uses to good effect in his final song, I Am Damaged.

In these more aware times, the show is surprisingly dismissive of suicide. It comes to the fore in a somewhat forced scene with perhaps the weakest song in the show, Shine a Light. Maybe some nuance was missed at this performance as at times the vocal mix was not that clear over the volume of the band. This a shame as the excellent band’s sound is rich and clear with a very clean bass but if you are furthering the story in song the lyrics need to be heard, all of them.

The physicality of the show is superb. There are some well-controlled slow-motion sequences complete with slow-motion falls. Also excellent use of dynamic, imaginatively sculpted tableaux which, unfortunately, some of the cast are not able to fully commit to. It’s painfully hard to hold a long still freeze on stage but it’s the job.

One little oasis of tenderness is Martha Dunnstock’s song about her kindergarten unrequited love. It is beautifully performed by Kingsley Morton, a rare moment of real emotion in the show.

The show is staged on a set that ostensibly represents the high school but efficiently turns into representations of bedrooms, a seven eleven and various other locations with the help of hidden multipurpose sets and lighting. The use of spotlights seems unnecessarily distracting at times.

The script has humour and some nice wit, “Hey, I’m bigger than John Lennon.” But it never really explores any of the important themes it crams into the script one after the other. If this is not an issue for you then go and see this high-octane, dynamic, crazy ride of a show.

Runs until 28 October 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

A crazy ride

Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - Central

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub